Yesterday, I made a lovely trip to NYC to see the Roundabout revival of On the 20th Century at the American Airlines Theatre. This “madcap musical comedy,” as it’s billed, features music by Cy Coleman and book/lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. This production stars Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher as Lily and Oscar, an actress and producer who were once romantically involved. The problem is that Oscar is broke and needs his ex to star in his new project- and he’s only got 16 hours before their shared train travel arrives in New York.
This show was super fun, especially in Act II. What was particularly impressive was the seamless set changes; train cars shifted away to reveal flashbacks and dream sequences. I’ve heard some complaints about the “tinny” orchestrations in this production, but it sounded great to me. The best numbers in the show were “Veronique,” in which Mildred Plotka becomes the fabulous Lily Garland, “Life is Like a Train,” which featured an awesome tap dance by the porter quartet, and “She’s a Nut.” Let me tell you something about that last one: it is the screwball chase scene at its finest. Flashing lights, manic pursuit, and an escaped sanitarium patient straddling the front of the train (seriously) all made for big laughs and excitement.
Speaking of sanitarium patients, let’s talk about the cast! I have to say, the supporting cast of this show was exceptional. As Oscar’s slick henchmen, Michael McGrath (of Nice Work fame) and Mark Linn-Baker were bumbling and charming, all at once. Mary Louise Wilson was also a crowd favorite as the token crazy old lady, and the four Porters were magnificent. But the biggest show-stealing performance came from Tony nominee Andy Karl, who completely nailed the role of Lily’s new boyfriend Bruce. He relied heavily on physical comedy, and he was a treasure to watch. In fact, by the end of the show, I found myself actually wondering what happened to Bruce.
Although Kristin Chenoweth is very suited to roles like this one, it was nice to see her having fun with the part and showing off her moneymaking vocal chops. She and Peter Gallagher played off each other very well and had good chemistry. They also had beautiful fashions designed by Broadway’s costume king, William Ivey Long. In conclusion, On the 20th Century made for a sparkling afternoon of theatre; I would recommend it, but you’ll have to be quick. This production is playing a limited engagement and will close on July 19th!